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Practice May Be Required Before Practicing Law; Stanford

Publication Date: 
July 28, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
Jill Tucker

Professor Lawrence Marshall spoke with Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle on why he thinks a new proposal at Stanford requiring law students to work in the school's legal clinic before they graduate, is "essential" in preparing for the profession.

While doctors, priests and plumbers often get supervised hands-on experience before becoming full-fledged professionals, many lawyers don't get real-life experience until, well, real life.

Stanford University is looking to change that, with faculty considering a proposal to require law students to work in the school's legal clinic before they could graduate with a juris doctor. In the clinic, they would work on actual legal cases with real clients.

Currently, about 70 percent of Stanford's 640 law students participate in the school's Mills Legal Clinic during their second or third year. During one academic quarter, the students put all other classes aside and take on cases that range from criminal matters, environmental issues and immigration rights to special education or school discipline matters.


"Just as in medical school or every other professional discipline, experiential training is essential to preparing a professional," said Lawrence Marshall, professor and associate dean of clinical education at Stanford Law School. "What's critical is not simply the experience by immersion, but it's the intense feedback, supervision, mentoring and reflection that are going to create lifelong habits of lawyering."


Making clinical work mandatory at Stanford would be a "shot heard around the world of legal education," Marshall said.


Students face "messy real-world problems" that don't fit nicely into the confines of a legal case book, said Bill Koski, professor and director of the clinic's Youth and Education Law Project.

"We spend a lot more of our time doing things that I would lump under the broad category of exercising professional judgment and problem solving," he said. For many students, "it's the first time they are responsible for somebody else's problem in a very real way."